Charles Donnelly (1914-37)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
[Charles Patrick Donnelly;] b. Co. Tyrone, 1910 [sic, DIW DIB], d. Jarama 1937; ed. UCD Brilliant member of the Nolan, Devlin, McDonagh, Cusack, (Liam) Redmond L & H Earlsfort Terrace set, some poems in magazines such as Comhthrom Féinne [DIB Cothróm Féinne], ed. Niall Sheridan. Formed left wing group, Student Vanguard; failed exams; went to London and edited The Republican Congress in London with Leslie Daiken, 1935;
 
joined the Abe Lincoln Batt. of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and died on the Jarama Front, of a bullet through the temple [aetat. 22]; wrote thesis on 19th c. Military Strategy which impressed Liddell Hart, the military historian; his poetry was admired by Ewart Milne and others; ceased to write for two years, and resumed on arrival in Spain; disillusioned by hijacking of International Bridage by Stalinist OGPU;
 
Donnelly’s brother Joseph was holding papers with a view to a biography [in 1996]; Heroic Heart: A Charles Donnelly Reader (2012) was edited by Kay Donnelly, Joseph's widow; a commemorative plaque has been mounted in School of English, UCD; there is a poem in Donnelly in Michael Longley’s Gorse Fires (1991). DIW DIB OCIL FDA

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Works
J. Donnelly, Charles Donnelly: Life and Poems (Dublin 1988); Heroic Heart: A Charles Donnelly Reader, ed. Kay Donnelly with Gerald Dawe (Belfast: Lagan Press 2102), 200pp.

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Criticism
  • Joseph O’Connor, Even the Olives are Bleeding The Life and Times of Charles Donnelly (Dublin: New Island Books 1993), 142pp.;
  • Gerald Dawe, ‘Heroic Heart: Charles Donnelly’, in Against Piety: essays in Irish Poetry (Lagan Press 1995), pp.65-80.

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Commentary
John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, in Irish Poets in English: The Thomas Davis Lectures on Anglo-Irish Poetry, ed. Sean Lucy (Cork: Mercier Press 1972): ‘The most genuine political poet of the Thirties was Charles Donnelly, who died in Spain at the age of twenty-three. Clearly he owes a lot to Auden’s clinical style, but he was not playing with the idea of “the inevitable increase in the chances of death”, but preparing for it, in case it should be his own. I must confess that I find his last poem, which was posted up for the Lincoln Battalion on what they called The Lincoln Wall Newspaper, after he was killed on the 27 February, 1937, exceedingly moving, the most mature expression we have of that martyr’s urge which lies at the heart of revolutionary action. Especially Irish revolutionary action; it is the kind of poem Pádraic Pearse should have written [quotes as infra]’ (p.152; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics”, infra.)

Michael Longley, “In Memory of Charles Donnelly”,

Minutes before a bullet hits you in the forehead
There is a lull in the machine-gun fire, time to pick
From the dust a bunch of olives, time to squeeze them,
To understand the groans and screams and big abstractions
By saying quietly: ‘Even the olives are bleeding’.

Buried among the roots of that olive tree, you are
Wood and fruit and the skylight its branches make
Through which to read as they accumulate for ever
The poems you go on not writing in the tree’s shadow
As it circles the fallen olives and the olive-stones.

Given in Earth Voices Whispering: An Anthology of Irish War Poetry 1914-1945, ed. Gerald Dawe (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2008), p.339.

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Anthony Cronin: Cronin calls Joseph O’Connor’s biography of the Donnelly (Even the Olives are Bleeding, 1992) ‘the best we are likely to get’ (review, in Irish Times, Jan. 1993).

Harry Clifton, ‘The Man who Saw the Olives Bleed’, review of Heroic Heart: A Charles Donnelly Reader, ed. Kay Donnelly, with Gerald Dawe, in The Irish Times (24 March 2012), Weekend Review, p.12 [‘without the engagement, though, the sense of truths already testedin the field, whould those last poems have their special gravitas?’].

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New Island Books: Donnelly joined Communist Party of Ireland on its foundation in 1933; failed first year exams, and repeated; failed again and left UCD in 1934; imprisoned for two weeks in July in connection with picketing of bakery; wrote articles such as ‘Al Capone was one of the Fascist Patriots’, and ‘De Valera in Arthur Griffith’s Shoes’; imprisoned early 1935, and left for London, Feb. 1935; contrib. to Irish Front, and Left Review; active in League against Imperialism; travelled solo to Spain and joined the Connolly Column of the International Brigade; the first biography was a memoir by his brother (1987); first published poetry in Cothrom Fainne [sic] (Book notice; note err. dates 1905-37.)

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Quotations
  Poem enscribed on Lincoln Wall Newspaper
  Between rebellion as a private study and the public
Defiance, is simple action only which will flicker
Catlike, for spring. Whether at nerve-roots is secret
Iron, there’s no diviner can tell, only the moment can
                                                                show.
Simple and unclear moment, on a morning utterly
                                                                different
And under circumstances different from what you’d
                                                                expected.
Your flag is public over granite. Gulls fly above it.
Whatever the issue of the battle is, your memory
Is public, for them to pull awry with crooked hands,
Moist eyes. And villages’ reputations will be built on
Inaccurate accounts of your campaign. You’re name for
                                                                  orators,
Figure stone-struck beneath damp Dublin sky. [152]
—Quoted in John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’ (1972) - as supra.
 
  Death comes in quantity from solved
Problems on maps, well-ordered
    dispositions,
Angles of elevatino and direction.
 

(From The tolerance of Crows; quoted in

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: selects from Charlie [sic] Donnelly, Life and Poems, ‘The Flowering Bars’, ‘The Tolerance of Crows’, ‘Poem’, ‘Heroic Heart’; BIOG 1431.

Books in Print (1994): Charlie Donnelly, The Life and Poems, ed., Joseph Donnelly (Dublin: Dedalus Press 1987) [0 948268 30 1]; The Tolerance of Crows and Other Poems (Cork: Three Spires Press 1994) [1-873548-20-6]

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